HC Deb 23 June 1948 vol 452 cc1525-30

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Snow.]

12.20 a.m.

Dr. Santo Jeger (St. Pancras, South-East)

I wish to bring to the notice of the House the lack of protection accorded to British authors, whose books are published in the United States owing to the absence of a copyright agreement between the two countries. At present they only receive copyright if they are published simultaneously in this country and the United States, and if they are printed and bound, in other words, completely manufactured in America. The United States has some agreements with certain countries, but has no agreement on any line whatever with this country. Copyrights are safeguarded by a series of international agreements; there was the Berne Convention of 1886, which was modified by action in Berlin in 1908, and there was a further convention in Rome in 1928, and, under these conventions, copyright in each country is accorded to foreign authors on the same terms as to native authors.

The United States was not, and is not, a signatory to any of these conventions. There have been serious anomalies recognised both in this country and America. Sir Stanley Unwin, formerly president of the British Publishers' Association, wrote a book in 1926 entitled "The Truth about Publishing" wherein he gave some interesting examples of the piracy of British books by some of the less reputable American authors. He described how a new American publishing firm went in for popular reprints of some of the old English classics, and mixed up with these, were books by living authors. Agents came to England and actually offered these publications to Unwins, who happened to be the original English publishers of the works. Sir Stanley referred to a book entitled "The Interpretation of Dreams" by Brill, who was a disciple of Freud, with which they interspersed chunks from another book by Freud himself. It was published as a new book by Freud, with a new title, and as an authorised translation by Eder, but neither Eder nor Freud knew anything about it.

Section 33 of an Act which was passed by this House in 1911 took power, by Order in Council, to treat American publications in this country as British publications were treated in the United States; that is, it proposed a "manufacturing clause." American books were only to receive copyright in this country if they were printed and bound, and manufactured throughout in this country. Mr. Joynson-Hicks moved an Amendment that this Order in Council should be approved immediately. The Home Secretary at that time, Sir John Simon as he then was, thought that although the Government took the power in the Bill, they did not intend to use the power at once, but should wait until an appropriate moment and the suggestion was never acted upon. It was stated that it would have violated Article VI of the Rome Convention. We then went to the International Copyright Union and tried to obtain sanction from the Union to insert a protocol which would give this country power to act under Section 33 of the Copyright Act of 1911. In 1914 a protocol was added to Article VI of the Rome Convention giving power to this country to introduce a proviso on the same lines as the manufacturing clause in America discriminating against British authors and publishers.

It is only the less reputable American publishers who go in for this kind of piracy, taking British books and not paying royalties. There is a considerable amount of American opinion which is rather ashamed of the attitude displayed in their copyright regulations, and many attempts have been made in the United States to get rid of this manufacturing clause in particular. The Authors' Society in America have made frequent efforts with the reputable publishers and with the British Association of Authors in order to take united and agreed action. There was a Bill introduced in America, the Vestal Bill, in 1931. That Bill was filibustered by United States radio interests. In 1935 Presidential action was taken and the United States was recommended by the President to join the International Copyright Union. As a result of his advice the Duffy Bill was introduced into the Senate but failed to pass the lower House. In 1936 another attempt was made and the Daly Bill was introduced into Congress, but again failed to get assent.

It seems to me that not only can British authors and publishers benefit by a regularisation of the relationship between ourselves and the American Copyright regulations, but that American books and authors could benefit, too. The American author who has first published in the United States loses his copyright in all countries of the Copyright Union. The English author does likewise. The United States authors can get their copyright by publishing first in this country. In order to get copyright in other countries for its nationals the United States has had to make separate treaties. There are 46 countries in the Copyright Union, and the United States has made agreements with 36 of them. I admit that if we were to impose conditions of manufacture upon the Americans in the same way as they have imposed conditions upon us it would be a highly retrograde step, but if we were to act on the power we have given us by the 1911 Act and by the addendum to the Rome Protocol of 1914, and at the same time include the proviso that the Order in Council should lapse automatically at the moment America removes her restrictions against us it would remove all obstacles to a complete and free copyright agreement between the two countries. We would then have a general lifting of the cultural level of books in both countries and we could have books printed and published in both countries where at present owing to a limited public in both countries we can only have books which show no profit, or even a loss. If we were to get this discrimination against our authors removed we would at the very worst get a certain amount of dollars into this country, which are badly needed, and at the best we would be doing a great deal towards strengthening the spiritual and intellectual ties between the two great English speaking nations.

12.30 a.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Belcher)

I should like to say straight away that my hon. Friend has presented a reasoned case and he has obviously taken very great care to assemble the facts which are quite true as he has stated them. I agree that the situation as it exists at present is not satisfactory from the point of view of British authors. Although I do not believe that there is intentional discrimination on the part of the U.S.A. against British authors, the existing law in the U.S.A., particularly the manufacturing clause to which my hon. Friend referred, and their failure to adhere to the Berne Convention, does mean that there is discrimination against British authors which does not exist in the case of authors of other countries and to which there is no counterpart in our own country. It is because successive British Governments have recognised the unfair nature of the existing situation that, for something like a generation, we have been pressing the United States to come into the Berne Convention and thereby put our copyright relations with them on a more equitable basis. But all these efforts have been fruitless so far, mainly because of the manufacturing clause to which my hon. Friend has referred.

I would like to indicate in detail what has been done by His Majesty's Government in the last two or three years to try to bring about some result. In June, 1945, after ascertaining the views of all interested bodies, and after consulting with all other Departments concerned, the Board of Trade put up to the U.S. State Department draft proposals for a bilateral convention on this subject drawn on the same lines as the Berne Convention to which my hon. Friend has already referred. So far as British nationals are concerned, the effect of these proposals would be to abolish registrations and manufacturing as conditions for securing copyright for other purposes in the United States of America. The immediate reaction of the U.S. State Department to this approach in 1945 was that the proposed convention would call for far reaching changes in the U.S. law and practice and would consequently require extensive consideration by the various governmental agencies concerned and we recognise that that is the case.

In November, 1945, following a reminder, the State Department told us that considerable difficulties were being experienced in formulating the basis for a meeting, so far as meeting the wishes of the British Government was concerned, but they added at that time that it was hoped in a few weeks to submit a formula for our consideration, but we heard nothing further, however, until June, 1947. This is not the only country where delays take place in Government circles in giving consideration to proposals. We did not hear anything further until June last year when, after a further reminder, we were told that the U.S. Government were not yet in a position to give their views but that a newly created policy committee on international copyright was considering the matter.

I have reason to believe at last that as a result of this Committee's consideration of this matter, it may be possible to begin talks between the two Governments in the very near future. I hope that that will be the case. I must confess that we are not very optimistic about the outcome. It would be wrong for me to mislead the House and the country into believing that, because we hope there is a possibility of starting talks in the near future, the outcome of those talks is going to be completely satisfactory from the standpoint of the authors and other interested people in this country. We are somewhat encouraged by the fact that U.N.E.S.C.O. is concerning itself with the question of copyright, with the ultimate object of a world-wide convention, and we hope that that in itself might have its influence on the attitude and actions of the United States of America.

Our proposals would involve radical alterations of the United States copyright law, and we know their difficulties in that respect. So far as we are concerned, such radical alterations would not be required in our own law, apart from the issue of an Order in Council. The United States attitude is bound to be considerably influenced by the fact that they are likely to have considerable difficulty in changing the whole of their copyright law. My hon. Friend has indicated that we are under a handicap because, as adherents to the Berne Convention, we have international obligations which require that works first published in any convention country, or simultaneously published in any such country and in a non-convention country, are entitled to protection in all convention countries without further formality. United States authors can obtain coypright for their published works simply by publishing them in the United States and here, and in this sense publication means making them available to the public and does not mean manufacturing. That is an additional difficulty with which we are laden.

I ought to say that although power is given under Section 23 of the Copyright Act of 1911 to restrict the rights given to works of foreign origin in cases where the country of origin does not give adequate protection to British works, this power has not been used, for this reason: we have felt that it would be better to try and get such countries—the United States is the example given tonight—into the Berne Convention, or alternatively to come to some bilateral arrangement with them. Had we used the power we possess under the 1911 Act against United States works, we feel that it would have made it almost impossible to get agreement, and that it might almost provoke retaliation. I should suggest that the fact that we have refrained, under very great provocation, from using the power we have, ought to be in our favour in view of the fact that we are going to have discussions in the near future with the United States authorities. I feel sure that the House will join with me in hoping that those discussions will mature in the very near future and that they will be successful.

I feel sure that the restrained and responsible manner in which my hon. Friend has stated his case tonight will assist, and will indicate to our friends on the other side of the Atlantic that there is concern about this matter; and I hope that the reply I have given, setting out the steps we have taken, and the fact that we have refrained throughout these long years from taking the drastic action we could have taken, should all help in bringing about agreement between ourselves and the United States on what, I agree, is a very difficult situation.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty Minutes to One o'Clock.